Wash. Post, NY Times shortchange winners of 5 Nobel Prizes, including Israeli laureate

The Sunday, Dec. 11 editions of the Washington Post and the New York Times carry extensive articles about three women from Liberia and Yemen who accepted this year's Nobel Peace Prize at a Saturday ceremony in Oslo.  The new Nobel laureates, who have been in the forefront of the fight for democratic reforms and women's rights, fully deserved this prestigious recognition.

Missing, however, from the two papers' Sunday editions was any recognition of the equally meritorious new Nobel laureates in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature and economics.  They picked up their Nobels at a separate awards ceremony also on Saturday in Stockholm, presided over by the king of Sweden.

The Post contented itself with a one-sentence mention at the bottom of its Peace Prize article that the other five Nobels were presented in Stockholm -- without identifying any of the winners.  The Times didn't even go that far.  It skipped all mention of the separate Nobel awards ceremony in Stockholm.

Such oversight is unpardonable.  Even when one grants that the Peace Prize occupies a special place in the pantheon of Nobel winners, laureates in science, medicine, literature and economics also deserve some recognition.  By ignoring them, the Times forfeited its motto that it conveys "all the news that's fit to print."  And the Post was similarly derelict in spotlighting only the winners of the Peace Prize.

Each Nobel winner, whether deserving or not, comes with a fascinating biography.  Not just Peace Prize laureates.   Take for example Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman, who received the prize in chemistry.  After years of being shunned by fellow scientists, he was able to validate his discovery of quasicrystals -- a discovery that overturned scientific theory on the nature of solids.  Textbooks are having to be rewritten because of his discovery.

Shechtman's award is particularly noteworthy because it's Israel's 10th Nobel Prize -- an unmatched record for a country with only 7.8 million people.   This is also the fourth time that an Israeli has won the chemistry award -- an indicator of Israel's global leadership in science and high-tech.

Israel counts most engineers on a per-capita basis and it's second only to the U.S. in the number of companies on the tech-heavy NASDAQ.  Israel's Technion scientific university and the Weizmann Institute of Science are outstanding in basic research, which helps explain why Intel, Google and Microsoft have major research-and-development centers in Israel.

"If you look at the top 25 drugs developed over the last decade or so, seven of them were partly developed at Weizmann; no other institution in the world can say that.  Harvard developed only two - and on a much larger budget," says Saul Singer, author of "Start-Up Nation - The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle."

Given all this, one would think that there were more than sufficient news angles for the Post and the Times to give Shechtman his due.   But let's face it:  These newspapers are mainly interested in depicting Israel in the worst possible light.  The full story of Israel completely eludes their coverage.

No wonder that first-time visitors to Israel almost invariably remark how pleasantly surprised they were in discovering a vibrant, fascinating society totally removed from the off-putting picture painted by mainstream media.   The non-coverage of Shechtman's award is but the latest example of such incomplete, unbalanced reporting.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers